Monthly Archives: April 2010

China’s Censorship Machine Takes On the Internet

The state of China’s internet…

Today, China censors everything from the traditional print press to domestic and foreign Internet sites; from cellphone text messages to social networking services; from online chat rooms to blogs, films and e-mail. It even censors online games.

That’s not all. Not content merely to block dissonant views, the government increasingly employs agents to peddle its views online, in the guise of impartial bloggers and chat-room denizens. And increasingly, it is backing state-friendly clones of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, all Western sites that have been blocked here for roughly a year.

The government’s strategy, according to Mr. Bandurski and others, is not just to block unflattering messages, but to overwhelm them with its own positive spin and rebuttals.

The government makes no apologies for what it calls “guiding public opinion.” Regulation is crucial, it says, to keep China from sliding into chaos and to preserve the party’s monopoly on power.

“Whether we can cope with the Internet is a matter that affects the development of socialist culture, the security of information, and the stability of the state,” President Hu said in 2007.

via China’s Censorship Machine Takes On the Internet – NYTimes.com.

Challenging the Limits of Open Society

This is a very good piece of critical writing in examining the model of governance for online politics and participation.

The trend toward reappraisal of China comes after hard years for democracy enthusiasts: Iraq and Afghanistan; Hamas’s election; the disappointment of many of Europe’s colored revolutions; persistent repression in Iran and Myanmar; an economic crisis that free societies were unable to prevent and unravel; growing sclerosis in the U.S. political system; and China’s extraordinary success, despite what Westerners have often regarded as a political system incompatible with success.

The question the reappraisers seem to be asking is whether their belief in bottom-up, spontaneously ordering, self-regulating societies blinded them to other truths (as their enthusiasm for China risks blinding them to the cruelty and violence of autocracy). They are asking: Can openness go too far? Can public opinion be measured too frequently? Can free speech sow disorder? Is the crowd really smarter than the experts? Can transparency hamper governance?

In a recent essay in The New Republic, the liberal legal scholar Lawrence Lessig lashed out at “the tyranny of transparency,” criticizing a movement for digitally enabled openness in government that is popular with his liberal colleagues and at present holds much sway in Washington. But Mr. Lessig argued that efforts to require legislators to post schedules online and to map votes against campaign donations, to cite two examples, can leave “a suggestion of a sin” and deprive legislators of breathing room to conduct their work, while eroding the public trust that disclosure was meant to bolster.

At the same time, the just-ask-the-crowd fervor of recent years — reflected in the ascendancy of blogs, citizen journalism, the “Idol” contest votes, Wikipedia, open-source software — appears to be cooling.

via Currents – Challenging the Limits of Open Society – NYTimes.com.

Spammers Paying Others to Solve Captchas

This story presents a dark side of globalization, outsourcing and information technologies. While this line of job may provide some income to the impoverished in the developing country, it makes me wonder if this is an organized crime.

Faced with stricter Internet security measures, some spammers have begun borrowing a page from corporate America’s playbook: they are outsourcing.

Sophisticated spammers are paying people in India, Bangladesh, China and other developing countries to tackle the simple tests known as captchas, which ask Web users to type in a string of semiobscured characters to prove they are human beings and not spam-generating robots.

The going rate for the work ranges from 80 cents to $1.20 for each 1,000 deciphered boxes, according to online exchanges like Freelancer.com, where dozens of such projects are bid on every week.

Luis von Ahn, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon who was

phisticated spammers are paying people in India, Bangladesh, China and other developing countries to tackle the simple tests known as captchas, which ask Web users to type in a string of semiobscured characters to prove they are human beings and not spam-generating robots.

The going rate for the work ranges from 80 cents to $1.20 for each 1,000 deciphered boxes, according to online exchanges like Freelancer.com, where dozens of such projects are bid on every

devevising captchas, estimates that thousands of people in developing countries, primarily in Asia, are solving these puzzles for pay. Some operations appear fairly sophisticated and involve brokers and middlemen, he added.

via Spammers Paying Others to Solve Captchas – NYTimes.com.

China Moves to Tighten Data Controls

The increase in security needs to be balanced with China’s economic, scientific, political and international development. That’s the key to China’s control of technology.

“Obviously, it adds another tool that authorities would have to snoop on people,” said Jeremy Goldkorn, publisher of Danwei.org, a Web site about Chinese media and the Internet. “But I don’t think anybody thinks that their communications are safe from the prying eyes of the government, whether it is text messages or any other form of communications.”

Some Chinese legal experts have questioned whether the draft amendment contracts the government’s pledge to be more open and violates China’s constitutional guarantees of privacy and freedom of communication. But one legal scholar cautioned yesterday against judging the amendment before the exact wording was made public.

China’s determination to control cellphone and Internet communications more closely has been increasingly obvious in recent months. A new bureau has been set up to help the authorities monitor social networking sites and other user-driven forums on the Internet. Other measures have been taken to step up surveillance of cellphone text messages, individual Web sites, chat rooms, blogs and other venues.

via China Moves to Tighten Data Controls – NYTimes.com.

Enemy Lurks in Briefings on Afghan War – PowerPoint

This story touches upon the theme of how the design of a technology, upon its adoption, can change the way we do things. It goes without saying that technology has limitation and is designed for specific purposes. The indiscretionary use of technology is the responsibility of the user of technology.

In General McMaster’s view, PowerPoint’s worst offense is not a chart like the spaghetti graphic, which was first uncovered by NBC’s Richard Engel, but rigid lists of bullet points (in, say, a presentation on a conflict’s causes) that take no account of interconnected political, economic and ethnic forces. “If you divorce war from all of that, it becomes a targeting exercise,” General McMaster said.

Commanders say that behind all the PowerPoint jokes are serious concerns that the program stifles discussion, critical thinking and thoughtful decision-making. Not least, it ties up junior officers — referred to as PowerPoint Rangers — in the daily preparation of slides, be it for a Joint Staff meeting in Washington or for a platoon leader’s pre-mission combat briefing in a remote pocket of Afghanistan.

Last year when a military Web site, Company Command, asked an Army platoon leader in Iraq, Lt. Sam Nuxoll, how he spent most of his time, he responded, “Making PowerPoint slides.” When pressed, he said he was serious.

via Enemy Lurks in Briefings on Afghan War – PowerPoint – NYTimes.com.

Big City – 2 Days With No Text Messages for Riverdale Students

Does technology provide freedom or take away freedom? This article suggests that the obsession of modern-day instant communication has taken away the freedom of our youth. But is technology the one to be blamed? Or, is the issue our lack of self-control? For our youth, have we trained them in the area of self-control and time-management?

Boundaries between work and home have long since fallen, so maybe it should not be surprising that the same is true for school and home. But what middle school student 20 years ago would have voluntarily reached out to her mother 10 times between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.? If school had any universally agreed upon upside, it was that it gave a 12-year-old some much-needed space to revel in independence or struggle with rejection — space in which, presumably, that 12-year-old could start to figure out who she was, or how he wanted to navigate the world.

This text-free Sunday, the Riverdale students said, was unusually relaxing. They were shocked at how quickly they finished their homework, undistracted by an always-open video chat, or checking in on Facebook or responding to the hundred messages they typically get in a day. Kayla and her mother went for a stroll in SoHo, a rare outing, with them both off the computer. “I had to look for things to do,” said Zachary, who ended up watching a movie with his mother.

Fewer than half of the 250 middle school students at Riverdale participated in the experiment, but Julia, for one, found it valuable. Among the revelations was the envious reaction of her father, who pointed at his own BlackBerry and told her, “I’d give anything to put this down.”

Unlike him, she realized, she had a choice, the best youth has to offer: freedom.

via Big City – 2 Days With No Text Messages for Riverdale Students – NYTimes.com.

China’s Cancer Villages Are Real—and Probably Worse Than Reported

This is my first time running across the concept of “cancer village.” Again this is taking place in Guangdong Province.

Chinese media have been reporting about the “cancer villages” for several years, and some of the coverage has bled out to international mainstream media such as People magazine and the BBC. Environment researcher Lee Liu dug deeper on the subject, attempting to confirm the credibility of news reports and the extent of the phenomenon. A geographer who specializes in sustainable development, he concluded that, if anything, it “is likely to be more prevalent than has been previously reported.”

Liu’s incredible report is worth checking out, covering the environmental, political, social, and cultural dimensions of the cancer-village phenomenon and reminding us that for every story we read about an eager-to-green China, many darker tales are perhaps not being fully told.

via China’s Cancer Villages Are Real—and Probably Worse Than Reported.

China’s famed Pearl River under denim threat

The dramatic pollution of the Pearl River Delta continues…

On the banks of the Pearl River, vendors set up shop daily at the Luwei village market. Mr. Liu wanders through the stalls at dusk, selecting vegetables and fish from the local fishmonger for dinner. As the sun sets on the murky river, he marvels at the disturbing transformation of the waterway he calls home.

“The water has turned dark and black,” he says.

“People used to swim in it,” a cabbage hawker says across the market. “We know it's polluted, but what can we do?”

The Pearl River has sustained Chinese civilization for ages, but over the last few decades, civilization has not been kind to the river. It has become a dumping ground for debris, floating among massive algae blooms and even pig carcasses. Agricultural runoff is one of the river's biggest threats, next to industrial pollution.

The river is the lifeblood of the “world's factory floor,” thousands of factories that produce the world's toys, mobile phones, computers, textiles and more.

It is also the blue jean capital of the world.

via China’s famed Pearl River under denim threat – CNN.com.

Entertainment Trumps Politics on Chinese Web Sites

This NYTimes article points out that Chinese people view the internet as a stop for entertainment. Knowing that the internet in China is also used for commercial, social and political purposes, how does this view of entertainment internet influence the other roles that the internet is playing in China?

Google’s decision last month to remove some of its operations from China has overshadowed a startling dynamic at work in this country, a place where young people complain that there is not a lot to do: the Internet, already a potent social force here, has become the country’s prime entertainment service.

Frustrated with media censorship, bland programming on state-run television and limits on the number of foreign films allowed to be shown in China each year, young people are logging onto the Web and downloading alternatives. Homegrown Web sites like Baidu, Tencent and Sina.com have captured millions of Chinese youths obsessed with online games, pirated movies and music, the raising of virtual vegetables, microblogging and instant messaging.

Even though Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are blocked by censors here, Chinese social networking sites like QQ Zone, Tianya.cn and Kaixin001.com are flourishing in surprisingly inventive ways.

via Entertainment Trumps Politics on Chinese Web Sites – NYTimes.com.

China’s new dam seen as a water hog

The lack of information about the Xiaowan dam raises concerns for the scientific assurance that comes from the CEO of the Mekong River Commission. This highlights the ongoing issue of lack of information transparency and accountability in dam-building in China. Why should data be hidden from the public? Is this necessary given China’s economic development plan and political system?

The Xiaowan dam in the hills of Yunnan province is one of eight hydroelectric projects that will bring China’s industrial revolution to the impoverished region. It is by far the biggest of the four dams built so far that when done this year will be the biggest arch dam in the world.

But not all of the water is China's. The downstream half of the 2,700-mile-long river winds through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, where it is known as the Mekong.

In those countries, 60 million people rely on the Mekong not for electricity but for food, water and transport. They say the Chinese dams have reduced the river to its lowest levels in 50 years, and environmental groups accuse China of reducing the river flow downstream.

Some regional experts agree that the hydroelectric projects are unrelated to the drought.

“China’s dams have not caused this problem,” says Jeremy Bird, CEO of the Mekong River Commission, an organization that helps manage the river’s resources for Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

But China’s refusal to provide data to the commission on the dams already is raising suspicions among analysts. This month, a Chinese delegation to the commission promised deeper cooperation but stopped short of adding to a promise to provide hydrological data for two smaller Yunnan dams.

“The Chinese must come clean on how much water they are diverting at Xiaowan and, in the future, at Nuozhadu,” another dam that will boast an even bigger reservoir, says Alan Potkin, a development specialist at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Northern Illinois University.

via China’s new dam seen as a water hog – USATODAY.com.